Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
“An important duty is providing services of merchant marine support for ships with Panamanian registry. Because Panama is the world leader in registration of merchant marine vessels, this is a high priority national interest for my country.”
After a term of more than four years, Her Excellency María del Carmen Martínez Arosemena is at the end of her assignment as Ambassador and Consul General of the Republic of Panama to Thailand. She will also be retiring from government service, and unlike most ambassadors she will remain in Thailand when her term is up, at least for the time being. Known as one of the most active, hard-working, elegant and charismatic members of the Bangkok diplomatic corps, during her time here Mrs Martínez has strived to put Panama on the map for the Thai people. Her decision to stay on for a while was based in part on the affection and respect she’s gained for her host country. At the beginning of our meeting, Mrs Martínez said: “First of all, I want to thank The BigChili magazine for the opportunity to give this interview and talk about my country and my diplomatic work in Thailand. At the same time, I want to give a warm greeting to the readers of this well-regarded and prestigious magazine.”
“I should start by saying that having been engaged in the world of management, banking and business in both public and private sectors in my country, this has given me certain comparative advantages to develop a successful and pragmatic approach to my mission here. The results over the four years of my tenure as ambassador and consul general in Thailand are evidence that this approach works.
“Business know-how was important in carrying out initiatives to secure for Panama a better quantitative relationship with Thailand in terms of trade, investment, tourism, bilateral agreements and official and private sector visits. This was also a key to cultural initiatives which have brought about a heightened image and clearer understanding of Panama in Southeast Asia.
“I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama when I was appointed as ambassador and consul general to Thailand, in January 2015. Before that I served from 1990 in the Panamanian Parliament. One day the President of Panama asked me if I would like to represent my country in Thailand and I said, ‘Yes, why not?’ It was a big change, but I would still be working for the country. I arrived in the Kingdom of Thailand on April 17, 2015.
“In my role as ambassador I have all the usual responsibilities and activities that come with being head of a diplomatic mission in a foreign country. These include representing my country at state and royal ceremonies and functions, and promoting Panama’s interests in Thailand with regard to the state government and private sector. I negotiate deals and bilateral agreements of common interest for both countries and keep my country informed of political, economic and cultural developments in Thailand.” The ambassador said her daily agenda varies a great
deal. There is almost always a function or two to attend, be it a reception, conference, workshop or one of a number of cultural activities. Her work takes her to government offices, universities, corporate headquarters, factories, chambers of commerce and so on. Always the focus is on Panama and its relations with Thailand in areas such as
politics, economy, culture, entrepreneurship, trade and country image.
“On the other hand, in my role as consul general I attend to the protection and well-being of Panamanian citizens in Thailand, both tourists and residents, as well as facilitate visa requests and so on for Thai citizens wishing to visit Panama. Another very important duty is providing services of merchant marine support for ships with Panamanian registry. Because Panama is the world leader in registration of merchant marine vessels, this is a high priority national interest for my country.”
“Panama and Thailand began formal diplomatic relations on August 20, 1982. In the last four years especially there have been important advances in the context of bilateral relations and joint working agenda. This is reflected in the
excellent ongoing cooperation between the Republic of Panama and the Kingdom of Thailand in several spheres. I
believe that I have achieved important objectives that I set out for myself since arriving at the mission in Bangkok in 2015.
“The first of these is in helping to bring about highlevel visits between our two countries, starting in 2016 and culminating in the royal visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to Panama in April 2019. I had the privilege of being a part of the Panamanian delegation accompanying her during that time.
“The Princess visited the control room for the Panama Canal and was given an opportunity to operate the opening of the big gate and view the transit of a large ship. Every ship going through the canal must be lifted and lowered in the locks. The Princess learned about the mechanisms of the canal.
“In the last few years a bilateral political framework has been built between our countries, with the establishment of a scheme of political consultations. The first meeting was held in Panama and headed by the Thai Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Two important agreements were negotiated, one on tourism cooperation and the other on visa exemptions for people holding ordinary Panamanian passports.
“In the trade arena, the embassy has made a concentrated effort to promote Panama’s privileged geographical location and connectivity in the ASEAN region, and create awareness in Thai stakeholders and entrepreneurs interested in establishing businesses and headquarters in my country. We are keen to show them how to take advantage of the government’s economic and investment incentives.
“At the same time, we have made it a point to promote knowledge of Panamanian products and their export to Thai market through the program ‘Panama Exporta’. We have participated in a number of local trade fairs and exhibitions,” said the ambassador. She added that Panama exports to Thailand mostly raw materials for production here, like rubber to make tires and metal scraps that are processed here and used in manufacturing.
“We also export seafood to Thailand. Other than that, Panama is a country of service. We promote services offered through the Panama Canal logistics platform and the banking system as well.”
The ambassador said that in the realm of culture, the main focus has been to gather Panamanians and friends of Panama in Thailand and direct their efforts into spreading Panamanian culture through a variety of activities. She presented The Big Chilli with a prepared list of some cross-cultural activities:
Fashion: Four years of successful participation at the Thai Silk Fashion show, which has brought two Panamanian
designers to Thailand to work with Thai silk and showcase their unique collection.
Film: Two films were screened for the local film community. The first of these was Donaire y Esplendor, which showcases a traditional festival in Panama and how it involves everyone around it. Also, Salsipuedes Street illustrates the life of someone trying to overcome the difficulties of growing up in the ‘hood’. This film won a Panama national contest.
Cultural Workshops: The Embassy visited Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen universities and provided instruction and unique information through a series of joyful workshops geared toward students who are interested in learning the Spanish language.
Music: Panamanian artist Buhonero Clandestino came to Thailand. He is a leading producer of LATISIA music, which mixes Latin American with Asian styles.
Thai film productions in Panama: Thai PBS went to Panama to film a documentary about the Panama Canal, its relevance to the world and its operations. Also, PPTV Channel 36 sent the team of ‘The First Ultimate’ to
produce a tourism program to attract young entrepreneurs and adventure seekers to Panama. The team travelled to all the highlight attractions in Panama.
Panamanian productions in Thailand: Q Films came to Bangkok to film the movie Todos Cambiamos, a revolutionary film that brings aspects of Thai culture to Panamanian society. SERTV, a national broadcasting service, came to film a documentary about Thai culture.
Sports: Hosting of the 1st TMA MiniFootball Diplomatic Cup, which brought together many embassies and international organizations and around 120 players in order to participate in a mini football tournament. The event promoted Panama as a tourism destination for sport activities. Events were also held to highlight the participation of Panamanian athletes in sports such as Muay Thai, international boxing and the FIFA World Cup 2018 participation, in which the Panamanian national team participated in for the time.
Social & Folklore: Organization of a gathering for Panamanians living in Bangkok, with the cooperation of Thai students who had studied in Panama, and the founding of the PANATHAI Folklore group.
Online Media: Improving Panama’s online profile, social media and network mass communication performance.
“I do not have statistics for last year, but in 2017 more than 1,000 Panamanians visited this amazing country, and this amount is increasing every year,” said the ambassador. “Not many Thai people have visited Panama, but I expect that after the visit of HRH Princess Sirindhorn and the promotion of my country in TV Thai programs will allow Thai people to appreciate the beauty of Panama and decide to come for a visit.
“According to our records, the Panamanian permanent community in Thailand stands at no more than 12 citizens. We don’t have exact numbers for the small Thai resident community in Panama either, but when Princess
Sirindhorn was welcomed I had the sense it is near to 20. “When I arrived in Thailand in 2015, someone asked
me at the airport: ‘Where are you from Madam’? When I told them they asked, ‘Where is Panama located? Is it in
Africa?’ I felt so sad and decided then and there I would put Panama on the map for Thai people. That’s why I have been working very, very hard to try to bring Panamanian culture to the Thai people and strengthen our diplomatic relations. I can say that now many more Thai people know about Panama.
“One thing that most everyone has heard of is the Panama Canal. The United States, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, officially handed control of the canal over to the Panamanian government on December 31, 1999. From that time, our economy has made great strides in comparison to the rest of the Central American countries.
While she’s been busy working to achieve her objectives, Mrs Martínez has very much enjoyed her time in Thailand. “There are many similarities between the two countries. The climate is pretty much the same and we have more or less the same kind of soil. You can see the same flowers, plants and trees. Many of the fruits that Thailand produces can be found in Panama, like papaya, pineapple, mango, coconut, water melon and bananas. We don’t have durian.
“It takes at least 25 hours to reach Panama from Bangkok, plus the time spent while waiting for connections, which could take up to five hours. That’s why I return to my country only once every year and stay there for one month. During my holidays I want to see my parents and my son and so on, so unfortunately I haven’t had as much time to travel around Thailand as I would like. I have visited just five provinces. The way to get to know a country is to visit places on your own. When I went up-country I preferred not to tell anyone I was an ambassador. I wanted to be a normal visitor. This is the best way to get to know people and interact with them. “I love to visit Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and after I retire I will definitely do that. I was born in Chiriqui province, a long way from Panama City, the capital. Chiang Mai reminds me very much of Chiriqui.”
Mrs Martínez said the most memorable time of her assignment here was when His Majesty King Bumiphol Adulyadej passed away, in October 2016. “To witness the love, respect, grief and sadness of the whole country towards the sovereign monarch was very moving. And it was very sad, a sadness that infected me too. I collected all the supplements from a local newspaper to keep as a bibliographic source for my memories.”
When asked why she wants to retire in Thailand, the ambassador smiled and said only that there will be a change in her life and she plans to stay for about two years.
“There are many projects in my mind that I plan to realize after my retirement. I will travel a lot around the country, go to the beach and write a book based on my memories. I also intend to rejoin the private sector.
“After living in Thailand for four years, I have many friends. They are not only expats and foreign diplomats.
· Born in Chiriqui, Republic of Panama.
· Widowed with two children.
UNIVERSITY OF PANAMA:
· Bachelor’s Degree Majoring in Business Administration/ Accounting and Finance.
· Postgraduate Diploma in Finance and Marketing.
· Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education.
· 2014 -present: Ambassador and Consul General of the Republic of Panama in the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Kingdom of Cambodia.
· 1994 -2014: National Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Panama: Advisor in the National Legislative Assembly.
Experience in the Parliamentary Issues.
Technical Secretariat in Budget Committee National Assembly.
· 1990 -1994: Director of Administration and Finance, Ministry of Education.
· 1985 -1990: Private sector in maritime business.
· 1980 -1985: Extensive experience in the banking field and private sector.
Many are Thai friends. I want to stay active in the International Women’s Club because I have so many good friends there.
“As for hobbies, I like listen to music, go to the cinema, practice yoga and read. I also enjoy singing, dancing and engaging in outdoor sports.
“In closing, I want to say that the experiences and knowledge acquired during my mission as ambassador in Thailand have made me grow in a professional, personal and spiritual sense that I will certainly never forget. The Kingdom that received me in 2015 is not the same as it is now, and I am not the same either.”